There are some hot spots. The left-rear side of the grill was consistently hotter in temperature-gun readings and cooked noticeably faster. That’s not unusual though, every grill I’ve ever tried has hot spots. What’s unusual about the Spark One is how you set up the two-zone system.
Two-zone cooking refers to cooking with both direct and indirect heat. It’s a cornerstone of great grilling, and it’s simple to do with most charcoal grills: move the charcoal to one side. That side will be much hotter and becomes your direct cooking zone, and the other side is your indirect cooking zone.
With the Spark One, it’s a little more complicated. You have to remove the heat diffuser from the center. Then directly above the Briq is the direct heat, while all around it is the indirect cooking areas. It works, but it’s awkward to move things around when grilling since you’re not going from one side to the other, but around in a circle. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it will take some practice.
The only real problem with the Spark grill is the proprietary charcoal. It’s not cheap, about $5 a Briq, and one Briq is one cook. Well, ideally. If you’re cooking for two people, say grilling up some burgers quick, you’ll use significantly less than a full Briq. There’s no way to stop the rest from burning up though, so you end up using a whole thing.
If, on the other hand, you’re cooking a whole chicken and you need just a few more minutes … well, you better start your oven, because there’s no way to throw a couple more Briqs on like you would in a typical charcoal grill.
Briq options are limited as well. The only ones available now are for high-heat cooking. The Spark really excels from about 450 degrees to 850 degrees, with 500 being the sweet spot in my testing. If you want to do a slow cook, say ribs or brisket, you’ll need Spark’s low-and-slow Briq, which I wasn’t able to test.
That gets to the heart of the problem with proprietary charcoal—availability. You can order Briqs online from Spark, but if the company goes out of business, you’ve got a $900, oversized paperweight. That’s technically not true, as you can cook with regular charcoal, but everything great about the Spark would stop being great. The precision temperature control is gone, it’s a pain to light, and in the end, it’ll cook no better than a $20 grill from a big box store. You need the Briqs.
Therein lies the rub: expensive Briqs with limited cooking options. If you can live with that, the rest of the Spark One is great, and it really does deliver on its promise of charcoal grilling made simple.